Home > Functional Medicine and Making a big Change to my Diet

Functional Medicine and Making a big Change to my Diet

October 12th, 2014 at 09:55 pm

The other thing I have been obsessed with this summer, besides long term care insurance and job hunting (expecting more interviews after the 10/15 tax extenstion deadline....things have been a little quiet on that front for the past couple of weeks, as prospective employers are busy) is learning about functional/integrative medicine.

My interest is the result of serendipity. Earlier this summer, I started attending the twice-monthly networking events offered by a local small business marketing professional, since I am hoping to work for a small business servicing other small businesses. The very first meeting I attended included the business director for a chiropracter who was offering a free talk that night on thyroid issues.

My thyroid tests have always come back as normal, but both my sister and mother are (were) on Synthroid, and I've long known that loss of the outer third of one's eyebrows is a signal of thyroid issues, and I have that, so I decided to go to the talk, where I learned that the thyroid affects everything else in your body since every cell has thyroid hormone receptors. At the end of the talk, the doctor offered a two-visit assessment for $100 that he normally charged $450 for, so I decided to see what my results would be.

The blood tests that he ordered were different than the thyroid test ordered by my doctor, which I learned is typical. Most doctors just assess TSH and T3/T4 levels, but ignore the thyroid antibodies. My results came back indicating normal (but relatively low) thyroid levels, but an elevation in one of the antibodies, suggestive of Hashimoto's thyroiditis, an autoimmune disorder where your immune system destroys your thyoid.

When I talked about the results with my sister, she said that her doctor said that it wasn't worth testing her for Hashi's, since her thyroid levels were low anyways, and the treatment would be the same. I have since learned that this is the conventional medical approach: wait until a disorder becomes severe enough that the patient develops symptoms, then give them drugs. If the drugs cause other symptoms, then use other drugs to combat those new symptoms.

While I can't currently afford the chiropracter's program (he suggested a six-month program of additional testing, dietary changes, supplements, etc), I got enough information from him to begin reading and making changes on my own.

The most important thing I learned is that Hashi's is reversible, if caught before the thyroid has been destroyed by the autoimmune reaction. The conventional medicine approach completely ignores this possibility--very distressing! Most patients never learn that their thyroid is in danger until it is too late and the thyroid has been destroyed, because conventional medicine focuses so much on symtoms and not causes, and considers things "normal" until they are acutely out of whack.

I learned from the chiropracter that most people with Hashi's have "leaky gut" syndrome and should go on a gluten-free diet, so I put myself on that immediately. I also am gradually working to greatly reduce all grains, and am considering, at least temporarily, eliminating grains and legumes, following the suggestions of the Autoimmune Paleo diet. I also learned that low stomach acid tends to be associated with these conditions and to make the problem worse, so I started taking betaine pills with high-protein meals.

I also learned that a vegan diet generally does not work well for people trying to reverse autoimmune disease.

This is distressing because I have been basically vegan (vegan at home, vegetarian away from home) for over two years now.

But I became vegan in order to address some annoying health problems (a big increase in my seasonal allergies and asthma starting three years ago), and the vegan diet has not resolved those problems.

I also found out from the tests that the chiropracter ordered that my ferritin (iron store) levels were quite low, at the bottom of the normal spectrum, and, distressingly, significantly lower than the last time they were tested. I have noticed for the past couple of years that my late-afternoon fatigue has been more severe, and that I don't feel as well-rested upon waking as I used to, and low ferritin levels are the likely cause of this.

I've also read enough now in the functional/integrative medicine literature to see that issues like leaky gut, ferritin levels, vitamin D levels, stomach acid levels, and symptoms, including asthma symptoms, can all be tied together, and the root cause starts with getting your gut in order, since the majority of your immune system is actually housed in your gut.

So deciding to abandon my vegan diet (especially after having been at least somewhat vocal in support of it on facebook) is causing me a great deal of cognitive dissonance, but is something I've decided to do at least temporarily. I've started by beginning to eat fish for the past month, and am contemplating whether or not to add in other meat sources as well. I also have been taking increased iron supplements, and before I decide whether or not to make further dietary changes, I'm having myself tested again for the thyroid antibodies and iron levels. I'm hoping that 6-8 weeks of being gluten free and taking increased supplements will be enough to show some positive changes on those indicators. If not, I'll consider making more "meaty" changes--though the idea of "bone broths" and particularly the organ meats that are suggested in some of these protocols turn my stomach. I don't think I'll ever go as far as to eat organ meat or make my own bone broth. But a weekly grass-fed steak I am willing to consider. In the meantime, I have fingers crossed that the changes I've made to date will show some beneficial effect.

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